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Today's quote:

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Sheltering Desert


It was the first year of the Second World War. The German armies had occupied Holland and were already breaking through the first defences of the Maginot Line. Windhoek was in a swirl of war propaganda, and enthusiasm, fear and anxiety coloured every discussion. Even a scientist could hardly hope to keep his head in that hysterical atmosphere. But my friend Hermann Korn and I had already decided that this was not our war. We had seen it coming for a long time, and in fact that was the reason why we had left Europe in the first place. We wanted no hand or part in the mass suicide of civilized peoples.

But now it looked as though the war was about to catch up with us; more and more Germans were disappearing behind the barbed wire of internment camps. Any day the same fate could overtake us. It was a dread thought for two men used, in their scientific work, to the desert expanses and the freedom of the endless rolling plains, and we were determined to maintain our personal neutrality and to defend our independence to the best of our ability. One evening, sitting on the stone steps of our house, we reviewed the situation and wondered if there was anything we could do about it. And then suddenly we remembered what we had once said half in joke: 'If war comes we'll spend it in the desert!'" Extract from "The Sheltering Desert" by Henno Martin


Read it online at www.archive.org


"The Sheltering Desert" (original German title "Wenn es Krieg gibt, gehen wir in die Wüste") is the story of two German geologists in South-West Africa (today's Namibia) at the start of World War Two: Henno Martin, Hermann Korn, and their dog Otto. They didn't want to be part of the madness that engulfed Europe and fled into the Namib Desert instead.

The book tells the tale of how they survived out there for two and a half years. How they learned to hunt and find water, to build shelter and make tools. It's also filled with astute observations about the human psyche, and what it means to be "primitive." In one passage, Martin writes, "It was about this time that we noticed a change in the subject of our dreams. Animals began to play an increasing part in them and the distinction between human beings and animals became blurred."

It's a calming read that has stuck with me ever since I lived and worked in the then still South-West Africa in 1968/69. Henno Martin and Hermann Korn were two men who chose their own path and whilst the world tore itself to pieces, they conquered life both physically, mentally and, most importantly, peacefully. Their book, "The Sheltering Desert", is a fitting legacy to them from which we can all learn a thing or two.

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